A Syrian refugee speaks with an aid worker in Lebanon. According to the United Nations refugee agency, worldwide displacement has risen to its highest-ever level, with 60 million people forcibly displaced at the end of 2014 due to conflict and persecution. Photo by: D. Khamissy / UNHCR

With international attention focused on the refugee crisis that has displaced millions and thrown resettlement policies in Europe and the U.S. into the spotlight, the need to understand the roots and responses to conflict remains as relevant as ever.

Over the past month, Devex and its partners — Chemonics, Cordaid, MercyCorps, OSCE and USAID — have joined together for Conflict in Context, a global conversation on conflict, transition and recovery. We hope that what we’ve covered in the process will strengthen our community’s understanding of the realities after conflict strikes, the future of humanitarian relief and the challenges and opportunities confronting global development organizations working in this space.

Experts predict that conflict and peace building will continue to be critical topics in the coming years, as ethnic strife, military action, climate change and resource scarcity threaten to cause hotspots around the globe to erupt in crisis. Just this summer, the U.N. refugee agency reported that worldwide displacement has risen to its highest-ever level, with nearly 60 million people forcibly displaced at the end of 2014 due to conflict and persecution, an amount that’s roughly 80 percent of Britain’s population.

The Conflict in Context campaign is drawing to a close, but the dialogue around these topics is far from over. As we wrap up, here are a few key takeaways for those who’ve participated in the campaign and those who are just now joining in.

1. Conflict response means striking a balance.

How can the development community best respond once a crisis hits, and what steps must be taken in the weeks, months and years following a conflict? Each conflict has its own challenges, as questions arise over how best to mobilize resources, communicate with vulnerable populations and protect staff working in volatile areas.

“It sometimes gets to be a balancing act,” Robert Jenkins of USAID’s Bureau of Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance told Devex. He added that USAID and its partners must also consider the most effective ways to track sensitive data, train local stakeholders and improve governance in fragile states.

And, regardless of the setting, organizations must figure out how to respond to conditions on the ground with appropriate sensitivity. In the scramble to provide basic necessities following a crisis, conflict professionals say that sometimes organizations don’t take into account the context they’re working in, and a nuanced understanding of conditions and customs at the grassroots level is essential.

2. We have to look out for aid workers.

Aid workers are operating in some of the most unstable and challenging environments across the globe, and it’s crucial to ensure their safety and security.

There’s been a marked uptick in violence against aid workers over the past 20 years. In 2014 alone, 190 aid workers were killed, kidnapped or attacked, based on data from the Humanitarian Outcomes Aid Worker Security Database. Many of these incidents, including the death of 26-year-old American aid worker Kayla Mueller while in custody of the Islamic State group, have garnered widespread attention and outrage.

Conflict experts say safeguarding aid workers means not just promoting their physical safety. Often, the best way to operate is through remote management that allows development organizations to rely on local partners to deliver aid while managing efforts from neighboring countries or regions, according to Chemonics director Christina Schultz.

Promoting aid workers’ mental health is also imperative, and as conflict situations put aid workers at risk, leaders of development organizations say there’s a greater focus given to providing staff the mental health resources they need.

3. Even in the face of crisis, there’s opportunity

Responding to humanitarian crises that persist across the globe is a formidable challenge for the aid workers and organizations working in humanitarian relief. But there are also bright spots and lessons to be learned as the global development community deals with crisis.

“A well-designed program run by organizations that are staffed by smart, compassionate professionals, can have a catalytic effect, saving and sustaining lives,” writes Anne C. Richard, the assistant U.S. secretary of state for population, refugees and migration. Richard noted that even amid her day-to-day work responding to disasters and supporting aid workers in difficult conditions, there are positive stories to be told.

Our reporting supports that. We looked at post-conflict states that have made the transition to peace with varying levels of success, including Rwanda, Georgia and Tunisia. We also explored peace building in Somaliland, where a locally led and funded process has paved the way for stability.

We thank our partners and the Devex community for taking part in this month’s Conflict in Context discussion. We’ve reached 10 million people, hosted three online events and published nearly 50 news articles, interviews, videos and op-eds. We made #ConflictinContext trend, with 5,000 tweets sent by individuals and organizations like CARE, U.N. Women, ICG and UNOCHA.  

The Conflict in Context conversation won’t end here, and we’re excited to contribute to the evolving body of knowledge on these important issues.

Stay tuned to Devex for more breaking news, insights and opinion on conflict and peace building, and we encourage you to share your take using #ConflictinContext.

About the author

  • Claire Peracchio

    Claire Peracchio worked on Devex's digital strategy. She joined us from Atlantic Media, where she contributed to the marketing team within the company's in-house digital consultancy, as well as its business development and corporate strategy divisions. A graduate of Brown University, Claire also had a tenure as editor-in-chief and president of the Brown Daily Herald.